While many Americans lament the nasty state of politics, growing numbers are running for office, particularly at the local level.
In Bangor, 11 residents are running for four seats on the nine-member city council. Only one incumbent is seeking re-election. It is the most candidates on the city council ballot in the 35 years that the city has maintained such records. Four other Bangor residents are running for two seats on the city’s school committee.
Rob Glover, a politics professor at the University of Maine, sees several reasons for the growing number of candidates nationwide. The 2016 elections reminded people that elections have consequences, and that their outcomes might not be as foregone as assumed, he says.
“Since then, we’ve seen a redoubled commitment to political awareness but even more so political action — volunteering, canvassing, phone banking, voter registration efforts, and increasingly in those running for public office,” Glover said in an email response to the Bangor Daily News. “So while politics is nasty, many view that as an invitation to engage rather than something that would dissuade.”
It has also become easier to run for office. Traditional “gatekeepers” such as party committees, party leadership, or informal networks of elites no longer exercise the control they once had, Glover said.
Changes in technology have also broken down traditional barriers, making it easier to build a campaign. Social media, for example, makes it easier — and cheaper — to build name recognition and reach potential donors and supporters.
Newly engaged office seekers are increasingly women, people of color and younger. The current Congress has a record number of women — 127 between the two chambers. This represents about 24 percent of the total voting membership, still far short of the more than 50 percent of Americans who are female. More than three-quarters of congressional women are Democrats.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, nearly a third of the women are freshman lawmakers. More than a third of the women serving in Congress are people of color, including the first two Native American women, who were elected to the House in 2018.
A record 72 women were elected to the Maine Legislature last November, and the state elected its first female governor, Janet Mills.
“More women in government means better policies,” Emily Cain, a former state lawmaker, told Maine Public last year. She is now the executive director of EMILY’s List, a national group that recruits pro-choice women to run for office.
“Nonpartisan research shows, that when more women are at the decision-making tables, we have more compromise, we have more consensus and that overall we get more done. That’s just plain and simple,” Cain said.
There are currently four women on the Bangor City Council, up from just one prior to the 2017 election, and three of the current candidates are women.
In addition to a record number of candidates, there is a great diversity among them. They range in age from 24 to 64, have a variety of professional and personal backgrounds, and motivations for running for the city council.
With so many candidates to choose from, Bangor residents have no excuses for not voting on Nov. 5.